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CHAPTER III AFTERWARDS
Patricia recovered her senses to find that she was lying on her own bed, in her own room. Beside her sat fat Mrs. Sellars, with many restoratives, and with a look of anxiety on her tearful face. When Miss Carrol opened her eyes and asked vaguely where she was, Ma uttered an exclamation of pleasure and thankfulness.

"Oh, what a fright you gave me, dropping down as though you were shot," she said, producing a damp handkerchief. "I thought it was another murder, and that you had taken poison, or----"

"Wait!" Patricia with sudden vigour sat up in bed and grasped the woman's arm. "You used the word murder when I fainted."

"And I use it now, my dear," said Mrs. Sellars, with some asperity. "What other word is to be used in connection with a cut throat?"

"A cut throat!" Patricia stared at her blankly.

"Oh, don't tie me down to words," wailed Mrs. Sellars, placing her fat hands on her fat knees and rocking. "Stabbed in the throat would be better, I daresay, if there can be any better in connection with the tragic death of my own and only sister. Martha and I never got on well together, but----"

"Ah, yes," interrupted Patricia, passing her hand across her forehead with a bewildered air, as a full recollection of what had taken place came back to her suddenly. "Mrs. Pentreddle has been murdered. You said that, and I fainted at the door."

"And very naturally," lamented Mrs. Sellars dolefully. "I'm sure I'd faint myself, if it wasn't that I am needed, with doctors and policemen in the house. And after such a happy evening, too," she continued, placing her handkerchief to her red eyes. "Sammy's play was such a success. I'm sure it will go on at a West End theatre and have quite a run."

Patricia ruthlessly cut short this babble, as she was yet in the dark as to what had taken place during her absence. "Will you tell me who killed Mrs. Pentreddle?" she asked, with some sharpness.

"No, I won't, my dear, because I can't, my dear. I should rather ask you that very question, seeing that you were left in charge of her with that sprained foot of hers. Why did you go out and leave Martha all alone in this big house, and where did you go, and why are you home so late, and----?"

"I shall answer all those questions in the presence of the police-officer who has charge of the case," said Patricia firmly, and gathering her Irish wits together to face a very awkward situation. "I can exonerate myself."

"Oh, my dear! no one ever accused you."

"Someone might accuse me," said the girl dryly. "People are always prone to believe the worst of one." She scrambled off the bed. "Will you please tell me exactly what has taken place while I bathe my face and change my dress?"

"What wonderful self-command you have, my dear!" said Mrs. Sellars admiringly; "it's a thing I never have had. I'm sure when Bunson met me at the door to say that Martha was lying in the drawing-room with her jugular bleeding and all the blood out of her body--not that she ever had much, poor dear!--you might have knocked me down with a feather. I was fit for nothing, and it was Sammy who sent for the police. Fancy! how good of him, my dear, seeing that he had the success of his drama on his mind. And it is a very great success, I can----"

"What did Bunson say?" demanded Patricia, keeping Mrs. Sellars to the point from which, confused by trouble, she constantly strayed.

"He met me and the rest at the door, my dear, when we came back from the theatre at eleven," replied Mrs. Sellars, trying to calm herself. "His face was as white as a clown's, but it was fear and not chalk with Bunson. He and Matilda and Sarah and Eliza got back at a quarter to eleven, so that the supper might be seen to. And no one has eaten the supper," cried Mrs. Sellars, again going off at a tangent. "Such a lovely supper, too! We expected to have such a happy evening, and here is Martha lying on her bed a gory corpse, with all the bedrooms upset by the villain!"

"What villain?"

"Him who murdered poor Martha, whoever he is, the scoundrel. He first stabbed Martha in the drawing-room, and then hunted all through the bedrooms, making hay, as the boys say, in every one. Just look at your own, my dear."

Miss Carrol had already done so, but she had hitherto believed that the open drawers, with their tumbled contents, the disordered wardrobe, and the displaced furniture, had been the work of Mrs. Sellars. "I thought you had done this when you were attending to me."

"But why should I?" demanded Mrs. Sellars, somewhat tartly. "It wouldn't have done you any good to have pulled your room to pieces in this way. The police say he wanted something."

"Who wanted something?"

"The caitiff who robbed Martha of her life," retorted the ex-actress in her best theatrical manner. "He murdered the poor dear for something, and as it wasn't on her--whatever it is--he searched the house. Whether he got it or not--whatever it is--I can't say, nor can anyone else. But he went out by the front door, in spite of the drawing-room middle window being unfastened, and where he's gone no one knows."

"The middle drawing-room window could not have been unfastened," said Patricia, raising her dripping face from the basin. "Bunson locked it before he went to the theatre."

"Well, then, it must have been opened since, my dear, for the latch is undone, and it has been pushed up a little way from the bottom. Martha couldn't have done it, as her foot was so bad she couldn't have left the sofa. I daresay the villain did it."

"He could scarcely have opened the window from the outside," said Patricia.

Mrs. Sellars shook her head mournfully. "I'm not so sure of that, my dear," was her reply. "The balcony runs along the front of all three windows, and as they are old and shaky, like all the house, he could easily have slipped a knife between the upper and lower sashes and pressed back the snick."

"But in that case Mrs. Pentreddle, thinking a burglar was trying to get in, would have shrieked for assistance," argued Miss Carrol.

"Who would hear her?" asked Mrs. Sellars very pertinently. "There was no one in the house, and I daresay no one in the road, as scarcely anyone comes along so far as this; on a foggy night, too. Who would come here on a foggy night? No. The villain found poor Martha all alone and stuck her like a pig. You shouldn't have left her."

"She asked me to."

"She asked you to?" repeated Mrs. Sellars, her round eyes growing rounder with astonishment. "Asked you to what?"

"To go on an errand, and"----Patricia checked herself, as it was unnecessary to repeat her story twice, and she wished to tell it in the presence of the police-officer. "It's too long to tell you now," she said hastily, and looked in the glass to see that her hair was in order. "Come downstairs, and let me see the man in charge of the case."

"Oh!" wailed Mrs. Sellars, submitting to be led out of the room. "Oh, that I should have lived to hear Martha called a case! And Bunson called her 'the remains.' Such an insult!"

"What did Bunson say exactly?" inquired Patricia quickly.

"He said that he and Matilda and Sarah and Eliza came round by the back and entered the house by the kitchen. While Matilda made up the fire and put on the kettle, Bunson went up to the dining-room to see if the supper was all right. Nothing was disturbed, so he went to look into the drawing-room, expecting to see Martha and you. But he only found Martha lying dead and icy cold on the sofa, covered with blood from her jugular vein. She never did have much blood, poor dear!" sobbed Mrs. Sellars; "but what she had she lost, for she died from losing it, too hurriedly."

"And what else did----"

"There's nothing else," interrupted Mrs. Sellars, waving her arms in a dramatic manner. "Everyone's upset and can't eat and can't go to bed, and they're all sitting in the dining-room, because Inspector Harkness won't let them sit in the drawing-room."

"Is Inspector Harkness the man I am to see?"

"Yes. He's in the drawing-room, and told me to bring you to him as soon as you could stand. He saw the cabman who brought you, and asked him where you had entered the cab. The man said at Hyde Park Corner about half-past eleven, which may or may not be true, for I can't understand what you should be doing there at this time of night."

"It's quite true," said Miss Carrol quietly. "I lost myself in the fog."

"But why did you leave the house?"

"I shall explain that to Inspector Harkness. Dear Ma," Patricia patted the disturbed old woman's shoulder kindly, "don't cry so. I assure you I have nothing to do with the death of poor Mrs. Pentreddle."

"I never thought for one minute you had, my dear," said the poor landlady. "All the same, Martha is as dead as a door-nail. She is now with her late husband I expect, though it can't be a very pleasant place where such a rascal has gone to. Not that I want to say anything bad against them that are gone, for we may be the same to-morrow," and so poor Mrs. Sellars, quite incoherent with grief and bewilderment, maundered on aimlessly.

Patricia was invited to enter the drawing-room by a jovial-looking man, whose would-be military air did not suit his looks. He was stout, red-faced, grey-haired and bluff in his manner, resembling the typical John Bull more than anything else. He tried to be stiff, but failed in his buckram civilities when he forgot that he was Inspector Harkness and remembered that he was primarily a human being. Miss Carrol was so pretty and graceful in spite of her white face and drooping air, the result of fatigue, that the officer beamed on her approvingly. But having placed a chair for her, and one for Mrs. Sellars, who was to be present at the interview, he became aware that he had his duty to perform, and looked as stern as he possibly could.

"Now, young lady," he said, arranging some papers, and getting ready to take notes, "what do you know of this matter?"

"Nothing," said Patricia, coolly and decisively. She was now quite her own clever, ready-witted self, as the difficulties of her position had acted upon her like a tonic. In spite of Inspector Harkness's suave demeanour, she was fully aware that he would not hesitate to arrest her, if he believed she was in any way inculpated. Her curt answer rather annoyed him.

"Nothing," he repeated sharply. "That is rather a strange denial to make, in the face of the fact that you were the last person who saw this unfortunate lady alive. Do you deny that, Miss Carrol?"

"No. Why should I? I was with Mrs. Pentreddle from the time Mrs. Sellars left with the others for the Curtain Theatre----"

"Half-past six, as we thought the house would be full," interpolated Ma sadly.

--"until nearly half-past eight o'clock," finished Patricia calmly.

"And after that?" asked Harkness, noting down this fact and acknowledgment.

"I was wandering about Hyde Park, lost in the fogs until half-past eleven."

"What took you to Hyde Park on this night?"

"Mrs. Pentreddle asked me to go on an errand for her."

"What was the errand?"

"What indeed?" said Mrs. Sellars curiously. "Martha, poor dear, was always of a very secretive disposition, and never told me anything. But, as I am her own sister, she ought to have told me what she wanted."

Patricia took no notice of this remark, but addressed herself to Inspector Harkness. She wished to get the interview over, so that she could retire to bed, for she felt extremely tired, and only her will-power enabled her to sustain the examination. "Mrs. Pentreddle," she explained, and the officer took down her words, "had an appointment to-night with a man near the Serpentine Bridge on this side. Owing to her sprained ankle she could not go herself, so she promised me five pounds if I would go in place of her. At first I objected, since the conditions under which I was to meet this man were so strange; but when Mrs. Pentreddle declared that, failing me, she would ring up a messenger-boy on the telephone, I thought that there could be nothing wrong, and accepted the commission."

"For the sake of the five pounds," hinted the inspector.

Patricia threw back her head proudly. "I am not rich, and five pounds mean much to me," she said simply, but with a nervous flush. "Yes, I went for the sake of the five pounds. Though, of course," she added quietly, "I was quite willing to oblige Mrs. Pentreddle in every way. I refused the money at first, but when she insisted upon paying me, I was only too delighted to accept. Do you blame me?"

"Well, no," acknowledged the officer, after a pause. "But did you not think that five pounds was a rather large sum to pay for a simple errand?"

"And Martha was so close-fisted as a rule," put in Mr. Sellars.

"The errand was not a simple one," said Patricia quickly. "There was a very great deal of mystery about it," and she repeated the instructions which the dead woman had given her. These both impressed the inspector and startled Mrs. Sellars.

"One would think that Martha was a conspirator," she exclaimed.

"Perhaps she was and perhaps she was not," replied Miss Carrol wearily. "I have been puzzling over the question ever since the box was stolen."

"Stolen!" Harkness rose suddenly to his feet and looked at the girl's pale face with an imperious glance. "What do you mean?"

"What I say," answered Patricia, whose nerves were giving way. "A man came and snatched the jewel from my hand while I looked at it."

"The jewel!" cried Mrs. Sellars alertly. "What jewel?"

"The one which was in the deal box."

"The box which this unknown man thrust into your hand?" asked Harkness.

"Of course. I should not have opened the box, but I did so, because----" Patricia hesitated. It seemed useless to tell these two very matter-of-fact people about the weird sensations which she had felt while holding the jewel, as they would neither understand nor believe. Swiftly changing her mind, she ended her sentence differently--"because the whole circumstances were so strange that I wished to know what was in the box."

"You were afraid that Mrs. Pentreddle had sent you on a nefarious errand?"

"Yes, I was, and with good reason," said Patricia, and Harkness nodded approvingly.

Mrs. Sellars disagreed. "Why, Martha was a most religious woman, and so good as to be almost unpleasant. She would never have sent you on an errand which had to do with anything wrong, my dear."

"You can judge for yourself," said Miss Carrol, quietly. "I am telling you all that has taken place."

Harkness pondered. "You say that you left this house at half-past eight, and wandered in Hyde Park until half-past eleven. How can you prove this?"

"Very easily, Mr. Inspector. I met a policeman in Crook Street when I left the house and asked him the time. He told me that it was half-past eight. At half-past eleven I spoke to another policeman near the Achilles statue, saying I had lost myself in the fog. I asked him the time also, and told him to whistle me up a cab. He said it was half-past eleven and got me the cab. Mrs. Sellars told me in my bedroom that you had questioned the cabman, sir, so he must substantiate my story."

Harkness nodded. "Yes. He told me that a policeman had put you in the cab at Hyde Park Corner about the time you mentioned. I see that you can account for leaving the house and returning to it. But what were you doing in the meantime?"

"I have told you," said Patricia, annoyed at having her word doubted.

"Yes, you have told me; but can you prove what you say?"

"Luckily I can, unless the things are stolen."

"What things?"

"The umbrella, the lantern and the empty box, which I left on the bench in the broad Bayswater path. I was sitting there when the man robbed me."

"What was the man who robbed you like?"

"I can't say. It was foggy and he only remained for a single moment."

"And what was the man who gave you the box like?"

"I can only make you the same answer," said Patricia. "Both incidents happened so swiftly that I had no time to observe anything. But if you will send to the Park you will perhaps find the articles I left on the bench."

The inspector nodded, and rising from his chair, went out of the room. Mrs. Sellars caught the girl's hand when they were alone.

"What does it all mean, my dear?" she asked helplessly.

"I can't say," replied Patricia, shaking her head. "You know all that I know, and must form your own opinion."

"What is yours?"

"I have none. I am quite bewildered."

At this moment Inspector Harkness re-entered the room and returned to his seat. "I have sent to the Broad Walk in Hyde Park," he said bluffly; "so if your story is true, the articles will be found."

"My story is true," said Patricia, flushing with anger. "But while I was away someone may have sat on the bench and----"

"And have taken the articles," finished the officer dryly. "Well, yes; but I hope for your sake that your tale--a very strange one--will be substantiated by these proofs."

"Do you believe that I am telling you a falsehood?" asked Patricia in her most indignant manner.

"I believe nothing and I say nothing until these articles are found."

"And if they are not?"

The inspector hesitated, looked awkward, and did not reply.

Patricia stood up, trying to control her nerves, but quivering from head to foot. "Perhaps you accuse me of murdering Mrs. Pentreddle before I went out?"

"No, dear, no," cried Mrs. Sellars, catching her hand kindly. "The doctor says that poor Martha was murdered about ten o'clock, and as you can prove that you were absent by means of those policemen and the cabman, no one can accuse you of the crime. And I know," said Mrs. Sellars, bursting into tears, "that you wouldn't hurt a fly, much less Martha, who liked you in her disagreeable way."

"I am not accusing Miss Carrol, I beg to say," remarked the inspector, as soon as he secured a moment to speak; "but the whole tale is so strange that Miss Carrol cannot blame me if I desire proofs. Naturally a high-spirited young lady doesn't like to be questioned in this way, but----"

"I don't mind being questioned," interrupted Patricia, her hot Irish blood aflame. "But it is being doubted that I object to."

"Natural enough; natural enough," said Harkness soothingly; "but one cannot bring personal feelings into legal matters. I have daughters myself of your age, Miss Carrol, and I have every sympathy with your position. As a man and a father, I fully believe every word you say; but as an officer, I am obliged to disbelieve until I have proofs. If I do not demand them, the jury and the coroner will."

"When? Where?" asked Patricia, startled.

"At the inquest. You will be the most important witness, Miss Carrol."

"But I don't know who committed the crime."

"No, nor does anyone else. But you can tell the coroner and the jury what you have told me, and I hope that the articles you left on the bench will be forthcoming to prove the truth of your extraordinary story. Come, Miss Carrol, you must see that I am trying to make things as pleasant as possible for you, consistent with my official responsibility."

"Yes," said Patricia, and sat down again, for, after all, she could not deny but what her story sounded very incredible. And as yet she had not told the most incredible portion, as that had to do with her own peculiar sixth sense, which she was very certain neither the inspector nor Mrs. Sellars possessed. And as they had not got it, how useless it would be, as she fully recognized, to relate the sensations caused by the stolen jewel. Her tale was improbable enough, so there was no need to make it still more so.

"Can you describe what was stolen?" Harkness asked her.

Patricia did so, and the explanation was received with exclamations of surprise by Mrs. Sellars and with a somewhat sceptical air by the inspector. Patricia saw his doubts and grew annoyed again. "What is the use of my telling you things when you won't believe me?"

Before Harkness could answer this very natural question, a young constable entered and placed on the table the articles which had been left on the bench in the foggy Park. Miss Carrol spread out her hands triumphantly.

"Yes," said the inspector, interpreting the gesture. "I believe your story now, young lady. Here are the proofs."

"Ah, yes," groaned Mrs. Sellars, rocking. "But where is the jewel?"


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